Childhood is a time when we try to adapt to the world around us and it is a place from where we draw most of our memories. Le Gamin au vélo (The Kid with a Bike) follows the childhood of a boy for a few days as he tries to navigate and live with the world he is cast in. When the movie begins, Cyril is at a foster home where his single dad left him due to financial problems. Cyril is a bright kid and tries to track down where his father has disappeared to. His search brings him across Samantha, a woman who helps get his old bicycle back. She allows him to stay at her home during weekends, while he continues his search. When he finally finds his dad, his heart breaks when his dad asks him to never see him again since he wants to move on with life. Distraught Cyril falls prey to the local teenage gangster, who uses him to get one of his jobs done. The repercussions of his con job end up affecting him and his relationship with Samantha.
Set in summery Belgium, Le Gamin au vélo is a light and breezy experience. Reminding me very much of my carefree summer holidays of childhood, the cinematography feels very natural and personal. Many facets of the human experience emerge through the prism of Cyril's adventures: search for a father figure, discovering good and bad, learning that actions have reactions, and finally a woman discovering that she likes to have a son. All of this comes through without any of the affectations that are typical baggage in a Hollywood movie.
Thomas Doret, who plays Cyril, is a gem of a find. He brings across the precociousness of his character with a performance that feels very real and devoid of mannerisms. How the directors managed to extract such a raw performance out of him, I cannot even imagine. Cyril is never seen being concerned about his mother. Leaving the mother out of the story leads the viewer naturally to use Samantha to fill that role. Cécile de France plays this role quite effortlessly, as she discovers slowly that she quite likes having a son around. Directed by the Dardenne brothers, a Belgian director duo, Le Gamin au vélo is a sunny and warm look at a tiny slice of childhood. I found the movie to be a delight and might check out more movies by the Dardenne duo in the future.